Ambedkar golden jubilee fails to reunite RPI factions

By Shyam Pandharipande, IANS

Nagpur : Even as the constitution drafted by Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar continues to guide India’s destiny and helps keep the republic intact, his followers remain splintered. They will hold separate golden jubilee functions of the party of his dream here Wednesday.

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While the Republican Party of India (RPI) led by Bihar Governor R.S. Gavai’s son Rajendra and claiming to be the “original” RPI will celebrate the function at an obscure place in the city, the RPI-Athavale faction led by Member of Parliament Ramdas Athavale has organised a grand show at the Kasturchand Park here.

Ironically, Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash — who leads the third major faction of the party styled Bharatiya Republican Party-Bahujan Maha Sangh (BRP-BMS) — has said that he will stay away from both celebrations, declaring that the real Republican Party has long ceased to exist.

The RPI was founded by Ambedkar’s chosen lieutenants on Oct 3, 1957, — 10 months after his death and a year after he embraced Buddhism along with thousands of his scheduled caste followers. An estimated 700,000 people had attended the foundation ceremony at Nagpur’s Deeksha Bhoomi.

The party was formed as per the blueprint that the Dalit icon had handed down to his political heirs, days before his death on Dec 6, 1956. Ambedkar’s mandate was to set up a broad-based version of two parties he had earlier launched — the Labour Party in 1936 and the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942.

Billed to be a big draw on Wednesday, the RPI-Athawale function is expected to be graced by a galaxy of national and state level leaders of Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), both the communist parties and those of some smaller secular parties. Athavale claims that 300,000 workers drawn from 30 states will attend the celebrations.

In contrast, Rajendra Gavai’s “original” RPI has decided to keep its golden jubilee celebrations limited to the party loyalists.

The young son of the Bihar governor talked deferentially about the senior leaders. “I will gladly take a small seat in any corner of the dais offering bigger chairs to Athavale and Ambedkar should they deign to grace the ‘original RPI’ function,” Rajendra told IANS.

But pointing to the Gavai-led party’s alignment with the Congress, Prakash Ambedkar has dubbed it the “Congress-RPI” while describing the RPI led by Athavale as “NCP-RPI”.

An embittered Ambedkar told IANS that the offer coming from an “NCP serf” is not worth looking at. He also refused to have anything to do with the “Congress satrap” — meaning R.S. Gavai.

Ramdas Athavale, recalling that he was unanimously elected president of the unified Republican Party in 1995, told IANS that he would initiate fresh unification moves immediately after Wednesday’s function.

“I am willing to offer the pride of position of ‘party leader’ to Prakash Ambedkar, the post of secretary to Rajendra Gavai and make the People’s Republican Party chief Jogendra Kawade the organising secretary,” Athavale said. “I will, of course, be the president.”

Referring to some RPI puritans who disapprove of the idea of opening up the party to communities other than Scheduled Castes, Athavale said a party restricted to Dalits could not have a political future.

“Dr. Ambekar had himself realised this when he lost the Lok Sabha election from Dadar in 1952 and a by-election from Bhandara,” Athavale said, adding that a combination of 40 percent Dalits and 60 percent non-Dalits would be right for the new party.

“We will take up major economic and developmental issues concerning the masses like increased irrigation facilities, a people-oriented Special Economic Zones policy and redrafting of forest related acts to safeguard forest dwellers’ rights,” Athavale said.

Referring to the growing clout of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Athavale said he was going to move the Supreme Court to claim back the ‘Elephant’ symbol for the RPI that the BSP uses now.

The RPI, which in 1967 won 12 percent votes in Maharashtra and had nine Members of Parliament and 29 members in different state legislatures declined in strength after forging an alliance with the Congress following the elections. Split in several factions, it lost the status of a recognised party.

Following unification in 1995, the party won four Lok Sabha seats and regained recognition only to lose it again after the second split in 1999. The point of difference that caused the second split — which persists even now — was whether to be aligned with Congress or NCP.

With the party remaining splintered, the division in the Scheduled Caste votes has helped other parties.

The ego clashes and battle of supremacy among top RPI leaders are coming in the way of Ambedkar’s party, and the party workers and followers, whose pressure brought about the short-lived unification in 1995, are hoping for another miracle.